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Friday, June 29, 2007

Alto Mare

A job, any job, must have non-monetary perks on the side, some pleasant tasks or surprises. If not, we might all run the risk of going bored then insane. When we make our living out of the sea, even us, desk jockeys, get the opportunity to go out in the field every once in a while. Although I rarely make port visits, when I do, it just feels like homecoming. You see, earlier on in my career I worked on site rather than in an office. And, one of the most rewarding tasks I was engaged in for over two years was that of a supervisor in an underwater construction project in the port of Tartous.
The phone call came in sometime last week. A new Italian Riva powerboat had arrived in town earlier. It’s sitting high and dry waiting for its maiden sailing. There are forms to be filled, approvals to be sought and piles of paperwork before the boat can even wets its propeller.

- Don’t worry, I said, I’ll put two of the guys from the office to work on it right away.
-Well that of course, but we also want you to insure its seaworthiness, we want you to…
They wanted me to take it for a spin.

It’s been a while, but over the years I’ve piloted more motorboats, of all sizes and shapes, than I can remember. On Wednesday morning, all documents were in order and as soon as I read the name under “Name of Vessel” the boat seized to be an It and became a She. I needed to get out of the office right away, out of my clothes in no more than 10 minutes. I should be with Alto Mare when the shore crane hoists her down the water. She should not be alone at the moment she floats on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, away from her Italian shore. I called a veteran captain of the sea; an active master of a 5,000 ton vessel on vacation in Tartous and told him what we have on hand. I’ll be there in 15 minutes, he answered. Before he hung up, I could hear his wife already complaining. Damn, how could women ever understand that men do not have to make sense all the time? That if a man receives a call from a friend while he’s having his “favorite” dish with his family and he replies that he’ll be there in 15 minutes it doesn’t mean that he’s having an affair with another woman. That a man could simply be in love with the sea.

I still have to go home and change, I still have to face my own Waterloo.
-@&% )^!** )#$$*# !@#%# )(^@! :-((( ……
I just know when not to reply.

On the way to the dock, in the back of a speeding car, I started flipping through her handbook (why don’t women come with a handbook). Impressive specs indeed! She’s a 28 footer, with a 240 hp Volvo Penta diesel engine, a top cruise speed of… wait, don’t get ahead of yourself, I thought, we’ll find out all that matters in a little while. Won’t we!
She looked nervous. Tethered and wobbling from side to side in the wake of a passing wooden boat, her slick white fiberglass body glistened in the sun. She seemed a little apprehensive, having all these people staring at her. There were at least a dozen onlookers eagerly waiting to hear her first roar. My friend, the professional sea captain, took her seriously and treated her with respect. We meticulously went over her start-up check list. While he fired her up I was looking in dismay at all the whistles and bells in front of me. A Global Positioning System came to life as soon as I touched a button and in a couple of minutes I’ve learned everything there is to learn about this fantastically designed electronic marvel. While an Arwadi apprentice (undoubtedly an old man of the sea one day) was untying her bow, I took a look at her cabin. A place for two to cuddle and sleep comfortably, a toilet for those long trips, a sound system, a folding table… but the smell of wood and leather was even more impressive. Those Italians know how to dress up a lady. I came up on deck. The captain had already put her in reverse while the hand went about tidying up the space around us and putting everything where it belongs. Leave the beer where it is, I told him, I’ll put it in the fridge myself.
Slowly at first, Alto Mare was put through her paces. Her inhibitions gave way to excitement and anticipation. Come on, she seemed to be yelling, let me show you what I’ve got. The sea was choppy and a steady wind was blowing from the southwest. Not the best of conditions but, a man got to do what a man got to do. As the skipper eased her throttle forward all the way he inevitably released the beast in her. She started picking up speed in the face of the onslaught of successive waves. We were as much flying as we were boating. Against the wind and handled by a master, Alto Mare reached 34 knots per hour (roughly 60 km). That’s not a speed to sneer at in the sea and after 3 hours of rough riding and a night of sleep there were more blue bruises all over my body to prove that a) I was not with another woman or b) I was beaten up by a jealous husband while I was with another woman.


We changed stations and I took her helm. Beyond words, that’s all. The exhilarating rush of speed, the refreshing spray of saltwater, the unforgiving sun, all the elements, together playing an impressive symphony. We circled the island of Arwad then headed toward the historical city of Amrit. From there we steered south then west to the small uninhabited island of Al Hbass. We dropped anchor, enjoyed a beer and a cigarette then took a dip in the crystal clear water. We moved again, toward the north, passing way behind Arwad, past the port of Tartous and onward to Bseereh, Rimal Zahabieh, Markieh, Al Khrab and making Banias visible we turned around and brought Alto Mare home to Tartous.

-She belongs here, I told her proud owner over the phone, and she’ll make you a very happy man.

-How long she needs to make it to Cyprus, he asked.

-Well, on a good morning with calm seas, four hours, give or take, I replied.

-Listen then, how about you come along sometime this summer, to Cyprus I mean.

-Why not, I said, all in the name of hard work.

21 comments:

Kinan said...

What a beauty :)

I would kill for your job you know. It is much better than sitting in a cubicle 9 hours a day pretending to be doing something that no one cares about and you are hardly interested in...

Anyway, seems like you've had loads of fun. I miss Al Hbas, Bseereh, and Rimal. It's been ages :)

abufares said...

Hi Kinan
I am very fortunate to be able to mix work and play sometimes. I am also among the luckiest in the world to enjoy the outdoors, especially the sea on a regular basis.
You should be missing all these wonderful, often overlooked, places. It's one more reason for you to put in that extra little effort next time you're around. You should return to the basics, that's all we have left.

Arima said...

Very nice :0) Lovely post too...like Kinan I think we all wish we were paid to do that kind of job. Ah Yalla!

Wassim said...

It's June and London is being deluged with rain, no break even throughout next week apparently. Sucks to be me right now.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Ya sallam! it is SO REFRESHING to read this post Abu Fares, you just can't imagine!
One small 3atab :) why were we deprived the privilege of seeing a full picture of La Vella ?? and if her prow is exclusive for her owner. A stern-side view will do ;)

abufares said...

Hi Arima
Welcome back. Khalas, come here and I promise to take you around on a boat trip.

abufares said...

Wassim
If it makes you feel any better, it's so hot today that it doesn't feel right to even go to the beach. I'm staying home on a Friday. For once at least, thank God for modern technology and A/Cs.

abufares said...

Dubai Jazz
you would've enjoyed the outing for sure.
I will post a picture of La Vella eventually. I just wanted to wait a while for exactly the reason you mentioned. Once she becomes a regular feature of Rimal Zahabieh (where she's going to spend most of her summer) I'll publish her "full" photo.

The Syrian Brit said...

Once again, my friend, your delightful post conveys your love for the subject matter, whatever it might be.. In this post, it happens to be this Maiden of the Waves.. but whether it is Shankleesh, beautiful cities, or a sexy lady that you are writing about, your writing is so sensitive, so graphic, and so sensual..
Thank you for a delightful glimpse into this enjoyable experience

abufares said...

Thank you Syrian Brit
You know what, may be I should write about something I don't like, just for a change.

Yazan said...

Abu Fares,
The part when u take a dip in the sea, sent a shiver inside of me.
Your writing is like a symphony, and that was its, and my climax.

Everytime I read what you write, I realize how I, too, am deeply in love with that sea. The little details that u mention, bring back hidden images that were saved, and hidden on my many hikes up to ras el-baseet, or ibn hani, away from the saddened sea at my city. It's as if I taken notice of them, but never realized it until i read it here.
a hat-tip for you my friend, again and again.

Lujayn said...

Nice! Although i'm not a boat person (I get sick on a pedal boat), your description makes me want to set sail immediately! But men and their need to devirginize everything, thats never seizes to amaze me :))

I love Munich said...

HOW BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!! I absolutely LOVE riding soch a boat, feeling the wind, smelling the see - s dream!!
I am sure you had the greatest time ... and I am sitting here turning green from envy!!!!!!!:-(
HAVE FUN great friend ... and stay in touch!
(How did Diana do?)

abufares said...

Hi Yazan
I'm happiest when you tell me that I was able to stir some of your beautiful dormant memories. I look forward reading your hiking stories in one of the most serene areas in Syria.

abufares said...

Lujayn
Divirginize! What an awesome expression. I can't even hope to be able to divirginze everything, but I sure would love to try.

abufares said...

Karin
You are always on my mind when I enjoy nice experiences.
Diana did well, I'll let you know when the results are out (10 -20 July).
Thank you my friend.

kaya said...

That if a man receives a call from a friend while he’s having his “favorite” dish with his family and he replies that he’ll be there in 15 minutes it doesn’t mean that he’s having an affair with another woman. That a man could simply be in love with the sea.

LMAO!!! ABU FARES!
That was so refreshing.

abufares said...

Kaya
I'm so glad I was able to contribute to the wellbeing of your A**
:-)

ammoontie said...

Dear Abu Fares,
You are one very lucky guy...The sea always have a calming effect on people ( on good weather i mean ) and I am looking forward for you write your experience on those big motorbikes next...!

abufares said...

ammoontie
You'll be surprised to know that the sea has an even more calming effect when it's raging with anger. Assuming of course we're on land and observing this awesome phenomenon. Personally, I love to sit by the sea in the dead of winter and watch the waves beating up the shore and the froth exploding in exhilarating frenzy.

kaya said...

HAHAHAHHAHHAHA! Wellbeing of my A**.
Oh man thats even better,
You on a roll my man.
Heeehheeeheee (shiytt! what was that stuff again in the shisha....?)